A respected Baptist pastor in Cuba has published an open letter highlighting the government persecution that has forced him to retire.
Pastor Homero Carbonell, long-time leader of La Trinidad First Baptist Church in Santa Clara, and general secretary of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, said he stepped down due to prolonged government pressure and threats made against the church where he served.
The 12-page letter, sent to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), warns of comparable situations faced by other pastors within the convention.
Because he had nowhere to turn, Carbonell said he wrote the letter to “call on the Church of Jesus Christ as the final rational recourse to lodge my complaint – asking you to pray, investigate, think, analyze and act on behalf of this and other situations.”
The letter gives details of Cuba’s Religious Affairs Office’s treatment of Carbonell and his church over the past three years. The office has sole responsibility for regulating all religious activity on the island.
Spurious accusations against him, including allegations that he is associated with the counterrevolution and is tied to unspecified “illegalities,” culminated in a series of penalties being applied to his church.
These included nonauthorization of the purchase of a church van and the refusal to issue permission to Carbonell to leave the country to attend the 2008 Baptist World Alliance gathering in the Czech Republic.
Carbonell finally stepped down from his role as leader of the church in October 2010, but the sanctions have not been lifted despite numerous requests to rectify the situation.
In the open letter, Carbonell echoes calls by other religious leaders in Cuba for legislation regulating religious practice.
CSW said the government’s focus on Carbonell and his church appears to be driven “by the church’s consistent refusal to expel family members of political prisoners and members of the human rights or pro-democracy groups from the congregation.”
Carbonell’s experience is in line with the conclusions of a 2010 CSW report (The Baptist Times, Sept. 10, 2010).
While overt forms of persecution, such as the destruction of unauthorized churches, had diminished somewhat, government pressure on individual church leaders had reached “unprecedented levels,” the report found.
In one example, Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso reported coming under strong pressure to resign. Barroso had provided spiritual support to human-rights activist Guillermo Fari-as, who carried out a 130-day hunger strike this year.
Carbonell added that there were other “similar cases at the very heart of our convention, including pastors and churches specifically in Villa Clara.”
“We are deeply concerned and stand in solidarity with Pastor Carbonell and the entire La Trinidad Baptist Church,” said CSW’s advocacy director, Andrew Johnston.
“While the Cuban government has implemented some economic reforms over the past year, there appears to be little official will to consider reforms that would protect basic human rights like religious freedom.
“It is troubling that the situation for many church leaders across the island appears to be growing steadily worse.
“We call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment of Pastor Carbonell and his family, to remove the sanctions against La Trinidad First Baptist Church, and back his call for new legislation that would establish clear legal parameters and recourse for appeal regarding all religious activity.”
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.